Early spring is possibly the most precious time of year for seasonal foods because it produces a small short burst of bounty in a fleeting window. Among the budding flowers and trees, you also have sprouting ramps, fiddle head ferns, soft shell crabs and shad roe. But only for a few weeks. It’s impossible not to think of fertility this time of year: fertile creativity, fertile relationships, fertile sea and earth. Right now, when shad fish, a member of the herring family, migrate upriver to spawn, they’re culled not only for their bony, white fillets but for their crimson roe, which grows inside cleft-shaped egg sacs, one pair of lobes per female. It’s actually quite a delicacy, right up there with the muscle behind the eye of a brook trout (I know this from my days in my job after school as fish monger). Last week the fish monger told me I had missed the shad roe completely since I hadn’t pounced when I first saw them, deterred by their similarity in appearance to wet lungs. But then I saw them again and quickly rose to the challenge before they disappeared for the season. To prepare it correctly I found an incredibly rich, delicious and sophisticated shad roe recipe from Ken and Jody, where they also discuss the interesting history of how shad and its roe came into the American diet and the role it played in the American War of Independence (talk about a couple that knows their food).
Not having done this before and knowing how precious a set of roe is, I had to treat it with the utmost respect. It was a personal accomplishment to finally use butter in my cooking. The recipe calls for slowly pan-frying the lobes in a butter bath with caramelized shallots and a little garlic until they’re firm to the touch then seared on one side until a dark golden brown. Then you gild it with the browned butter and capers, squeeze out the juice of a lemon, sprinkle with cilantro and pour over the roe. This recipe is a keeper.
This is a ridiculously luxurious meal without too much fuss: the shad roe is wonderfully meaty, slightly livery –less so if you give a salt bath overnight, which drains some of the blood–(thank you for that tip, Ken!), and with a deeply savory, slightly salty taste made even richer by the browned butter. It’s also so satisfying that one set of shad roe is enough for two people. I felt like royalty eating what was once, like lobster, considered a pauper’s food. I will make this my new spring tradition to welcome the bounty of the fertile season.
Shad Roe with Brown Butter, Shallots and Capers
- 1 set shad roe, about 12 ounces
- Kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger (optional)
- 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons rinsed capers
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- ½ pound small red bliss potatoes (I actually used sweet potato in my recipe because of allergies, but I think the red ones or fingerlings would be wonderful.
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs–chives, parsley, chervil
Make a solution of 1½ quarts water and 1½ tablespoons salt and stir until dissolved. Add the roe and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
The next day, drain and pat dry. Combine the butter and shallots in a large saute pan over the lowest heat and cook 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook 30 seconds, then add the roe and baste with the butter.
Cover all but 1 inch of the pan with a lid and continue to cook over low heat, basting with the fat every 3 minutes or so for 10 minutes. Carefully turn the roe, and cook 5 minutes on low, continuing to baste the roe. Increase the heat to medium high to sear the outside, about 2 minutes. The lobes should be just cooked so they’re still springy to the touch with tender opaque eggs.
Transfer to a cutting board or plate, separate the lobes with your hands or a knife and trim off any excess membrane. Arrange on 2 warm plates.
Add the lemon, capers and cilantro to the pan off the heat, taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary and then spoon the pan sauce over the roe.
While the roe is cooking wash and scrub the potatoes. Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Add salt, bring to a boil and then decrease the heat to low. Simmer until just done, 5-8 minutes. Drain, cut in half and then return to the pan and toss with the chopped herbs.
Serve the roe with the potatoes.
This is quite rich. All you need in addition is a simple green salad.